As tsunamis go, the tsunami that followed the earthquake in Puerto Rico on October 18, 1918, wasn’t as fierce or as deadly as the one that recently occurred in the Indian Ocean. Nor was it as high as the one that hit Scotch Cap Lighthouse on Unimak Island Alaska on April 1,1946, which demolished the lighthouse and killed the five crewmembers. That same tsunami hit the Hawaiian Islands five hours later, wreaking much destruction and taking many lives, along with at least one lighthouse, Laupahoehoe Point.
Even if the Puerto Rican tsunami on October 11, 1918, was not as large, it was no small thing to the people of the west coast of Puerto Rico. More than 150 people lost their lives that day. Many more were injured or lost their homes and businesses.
Point Borinquen Lighthouse was down close to the water. The sand had been washing away in front of it so it was already scheduled to be replaced in several years by a new Point Borinquen Lighthouse, some distance away and on a bluff.
Francisco Cavallieri was keeper at Point Borinquen at the time of the tsunami. In a January 2005 email his great granddaughter Ileana Fajardo of Puerto Rico, wrote about her grandmother:”She was living at the Punta Borinquen Lighthouse that was destroyed by a tidal wave.
Which was the reason they got transferred eventually to Isla Mona, then Vieques. Her mom had a “sense” something was not right in the atmosphere. The air was tight, the birds were silent, dogs were wild. She insisted they leave and my great grandfather, the keeper, kept ignoring her crazy claims. Then finally she just picked up the kids (my grandmother was three at the time, along with two other brothers) and ran. My great grandfather had no choice but to follow. Moments later they felt the tremble. It was off the coast of Puerto Rico, but the tremor was felt. And soon the tidal wave engulfed the area, completely destroying the tower.. “
Actually, the lighthouse was not destroyed by the tsunami, but
was damaged greatly by the earthquake. The tower was cracked, brickwork shattered, and the tidal wave undermined part of the foundation. The keeper refused to work in the tower and would not move his family back in the keeper’s quarters. The whole building, tower and all were deemed unsafe. That family was saved, but in nearby Aquadilla at least 30 people died and many buildings were destroyed.
The same tsunami also raced into Mayaguez, north of Aquadilla, flowing right past the Mayaguez Range Light and destroying most
of the buildings in the town and taking over 37 lives, but sparing
the range light.
The third lighthouse affected by this occurrence was Point Jiguero at Rincon. Point Jiguero lighthouse sat high on a cliff and was not damaged by the pounding waves, but by the earth quake itself. The tower had massive horizontal cracks, and cracks about the windows and doors of the dwelling. The keepers were not allowed to move back in, but it was felt that the tower would be safe enough for the light unless another disaster occurred.
At both Point Borinquen and Point Jiguero, the new towers were built of reinforced concrete and were not attached to the keeper’s quarters. Both of these newer lighthouses still stand.
This story appeared in the
March 2005 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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